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AT THE FRONTIER | Our airport needs to make a better first impression

Dean Allen
Dean Allen

For many visitors arriving into Gqeberha the first impression they get is of our dear old airport. Chief Dawid Stuurman International, as it now known, has been serving our region faithfully since 1929 and is an important part of what makes Nelson Mandela Bay so special.

Yes, we love its convenience. Yes, we love the fact that we can board our flights effortlessly, avoiding the large crowds experienced at other South African airports. But is it time we demanded better from those running the place?

The airport currently handles more than 1,2 million passengers per year, over 60,000 scheduled flights and over 800 tonnes of cargo.

Recently, however, there have been multiple reports of the airport not operating to the required standard for an important tourism and economic hub.

Local tour operators and guides have been particularly vocal in voicing their displeasure at the decline in service delivery at the airport.

“In our roles as travel ambassadors for Nelson Mandela Bay, we spend a lot of time at Chief David Stuurman Airport,” commented Lynn Haller, a qualified tour operator and tourist guide.

“In the past few years, we have watched as the airport has slowly degraded to a state of absolute embarrassment.”

Dysfunctional information boards, lights not working within the arrivals hall, broken luggage carousels and even stench from the airport toilets all add to a less than impressive experience for those arriving into our region.

Beyond the terminal itself, queues of cars are a common sight as booms remain broken while people wait in frustration as the parking payment machines break down repeatedly.

“Shaded parking is no longer shaded,” Haller points out.

“The covers are in tatters and not just from the recent storms I can assure you. They have been like that for years and are just getting worse by the day.”

Haller, who admits to writing to the Airport Company SA (ACSA) over 10 years ago to complain about these issues sees no end to the frustrations her and her fellow travel professionals face at the airport on a daily basis. “What do we pay our taxes for, exactly?” she asks.

“The airport needs a facelift,” agrees fellow tour operator Jaco Ras. “The level of service delivery from airport staff is appalling. There is never anyone at the information desks to help people. And we call ourselves the ‘Friendly City? It is so frustrating.”

I can certainly concur with the sentiments of our local tour operators. Recently I arrived on a flight from Cape Town to find the doors to the arrival hall locked. A member of staff on the outside had to knock on the door as 100 passengers and crew waited to be let into the airport building! Can you imagine the thoughts of those arriving here on holiday or, worse, those arriving here on business?!

There certainly seems to be a general apathy among staff at the airport and whether this points to poor morale or training, airport management needs to address these issues and quickly.

And it’s not just the airport operations that are failing its customers. On another occasion, my wife had the temerity to arrive 20 minutes before closing time at one of the airport’s 2 public restaurants.

As she waited for the arrival of my plane from Johannesburg, she ordered a coffee and sandwich and was promptly stared at by each of the 6 waiting staff who were clearly in more of a hurry to close than they were to serve guests.

This kind of service delivery is unacceptable at one of the main gateways into our region.

British-American businesswoman Natalie Massenet was right when she said that “you only have one opportunity to make a first impression.” In the case of our beleaguered airport and its staff, it is time to do something about this.

Dr Dean Allen is a best-selling author and keynote speaker.



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